The ADA and Physical Abilities Testing: What You Need to Know

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 29, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Physical abilities testing offers employers, especially those in physically demanding industries, an important tool for evaluating the qualifications of potential new employees. However, many employers wonder just how physical ability test programs square with ADA regulations. Can companies use these tests without running afoul of those regulations? The answer is yes, so long as the testing program meets certain standards; when properly designed and used, these programs can even aid in ADA compliance.

Pre Hire Physical Ability Tests and the ADA

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that guarantees equal opportunity for jobs to qualified individuals with disabilities. The key word here, in terms of the question of pre hire physical ability testing programs, is "qualified."

The ADA defines a qualified individual with a disability as an employee or job applicant who meets the legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirement of an employment position that he or she holds or seeks. The individual must be able to perform essential, as opposed to marginal or incidental, functions of the position, either with or without reasonable accommodations.

What that means to employers is that testing the physical ability of a potential new hire to safely and efficiently perform the essential functions of the job is not contrary to ADA regulations. However, there are certain guidelines that must be followed.

The ADA prohibits making disability-related inquiries or medical examinations until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended to a potential new hire. The reasoning behind this prohibition is that it is meant to help ensure that applicants are given the opportunity to show themselves qualified for a position, rather than being immediately screened out over medical or disability considerations. Since a well-designed physical ability test will often include monitoring of factors like heart rate and blood pressure – procedures that are considered as medical exams under the ADA – testing should be done post offer, the final step in the employment screening process for candidates who have already proven themselves otherwise qualified for the position.

Additionally, to ensure compliance with the ADA, a physical ability test must be administered consistently, testing all candidates for a given position across the board rather than just those who employers suspect may have difficultly meeting the physical demands of the job. It also must be specifically tailored to the job demands as determined by a job analysis, testing the candidate's ability to perform the specific activities and tasks that they will be expected to complete in the workplace if hired. Finally, to ensure ADA compliance and legal defensibility, the testing program must use scientifically validated methods to provide an objective, accurate evaluation of the ability of candidates to meet the physical requirements of the workplace.

How Physical Ability Testing Can Aid Compliance

Under the ADA, employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. A good physical ability test program can help employers meet that standard.

Job analysis is a necessity in this program since it accurately quantifies the physical demands of a job to create the standards upon which physical ability tests are based. With information provided by job analysis and physical ability testing of a qualified person with a disability, employers can more accurately assess any physical limitations that person may have and exactly what type of reasonable accommodation might be most effective in terms of removing barriers to efficient workplace performance.

The bottom line is that physical ability tests, so long as they are designed by an expert testing provider who is knowledgeable about ADA regulations and requirements, will not create problems with compliance with federal employment regulations. In fact, a properly designed program can help your company better ensure compliance – both in the hiring process and in the day-to-day management of your workplace.

legal considerations in Physical Abilities Testing

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Topics: Pre Employment Screening, Legal Issues

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.